Encounter with Poverty

When you’re visiting a developing country, especially one that had just emerged from years of civil war like Cambodia, you’re likely have to deal with the reality that many local people are struggling economically. I had read in the guidebooks and on people’s travel journals about encountering poverty in Cambodia, with many children begging for change from tourists. But I wasn’t really prepared to experience this personally.

After finishing our tour of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, we continued the day with a visit to the National Museum of Cambodia that is located pretty close from the Royal Palace. When we arrived there, I went to the ticket office to purchase tickets. As I stood in front of the ticket counter to wait for our tickets, I felt a gentle tug on my shirt. I looked down, and under the ticket counter there was a little boy, looking at me with a sad face, asking for some change. This caught me off guard. I ended up looking back at the little boy, shook my head to say no, and walked away. He stayed there and waited for the next visitor to come.

Many guidebooks suggested to tourists not to give money to the child beggars, as in most cases, the children actually wouldn’t benefit from the money as they were taken advantage of either by their own parents or by other adults. They suggested donating through other means, like by supporting Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that work with the street children to help them out of poverty. Logically that made sense, but emotionally it’s still hard to just walk away and not do anything for the little boy.

I took the photo below few minutes later from a little distance. The little boy stayed there at the ticket counter, and asked for money from the next visitor coming to purchase ticket. The person at the ticket counter didn’t do anything and let the little boy stay there.

Child beggar

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